Tuesdays with Isaiah (Chapter 33)

In this message, Isaiah again brings another message carrying the themes of God’s coming judgment and salvation.  Nations and individuals given to injustice, deception, and oppression are brought low as God lifts himself up.  The people of Zion who rely on His power and align with His will—those who fear Him—experience the abundance of His saving power and goodness.

The chapter begins with a brief shout out to an oppressing unnamed nation; in light of previous pronouncements about the reigning world power, Isaiah may have Assyria in mind. This nation, currently living large through deception and destruction of others is warned of a coming reversal: it will be betrayed and destroyed (1-2).

Verse 3 launches into a prayer from the faithful who wait for God’s deliverance and ask for His powerful arm to rescue them (3).  These true believers know that when the Lord decides to “lift” himself up, the oppressing nations will be “scattered”, their wealth stripped clean as if by locusts (3).

Isaiah once again sees the Lord “exalted” and lifted “on high” (5, compare 6:1-2). He not only fills the Temple, but the entire city of Zion with “justice and righteousness” (5). His presence brings salvation and stability: “and he will be the stability of your times, the abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge” (6).  Those whom He saves have come to see the “fear of the Lord” as “Zion’s treasure” (6).

Verse 7 toggles back to a vision of nations in disarray, betrayed and brought low by the misdeeds of others.  Their “heroes cry in the streets”; their envoys negotiating peace “weep bitterly” (7).  The devastation has caused desolation: “the highways lie waste; the traveler ceases” (8).  Covenant agreements between nations have been broken—a sad reality mentioned in verse 1-2.  Cities lie in ruins as their inhabitants have been treated brutally (“no regard for man”—8).  Lebanon and Bashan (the region near Israel) have been badly shaken and scorched (9). 

As man does his worst, the Lord rises to do His best: “‘Now I will arise,’ says the Lord, ‘now I will lift myself up; now I will be exalted’” (10).  His fiery judgment consumes the chaff and thorns of the nations; the “peoples will be as if burned to lime” (12).  God’s consuming judgment not only terrifies Israel’s enemies, it brings trembling to the “sinners in Zion” (14).  Those among God’s covenant people who have spurned His ways fear that God is a “consuming fire” (14).  For them, the “fear of the Lord” is not a treasure but a terror!

Those who live with a healthy fear of God find Him to be “the abundance of salvation, wisdom and knowledge” (6).  Verses 15-24 detail just how the same God who panics the wicked, protects the one who “walks righteously and speaks uprightly” (15).  Those who fear Him in the right way reject oppression, injustice, violence and all evil (15).  Isaiah pictures them as shaking their hands to make sure they don’t hang on to bribes, stopping their ears from listening to evil plans and closing their eyes in a refusal to look favourably on evil actions.  As Proverbs 3:7 indicates, those who fear the Lord turn away from evil.  

Those who walk uprightly out of a true fear of God will “behold the king in his beauty.  Beginning in verse 17, Isaiah gets more personal with his pronouns, changing from the third person (“they/he”) to the second (“you/your”).  Trouble will be only a memory, as the righteous “muse” on God’s deliverance and salvation.  They will wonder where the oppressors went—those who exacted tribute and spoke in a foreign tongue (18).

When God rises to route the wicked, Zion will once again become a place of joyful gathering (“our appointed feasts”); it will be “an untroubled habitation, an immovable tent, whose stakes will never be plucked up, nor will any of its cords be broken” (20).  Instead, the Lord, in His majesty, will be “a place of broad rivers and streams.”  The invaders will be like disabled ships (“your cords hang loose; they cannot hold the mast firm”—23) who cannot pass along the river of God (“no galley with oars can go, no majestic ship can pass”—21).

With their enemies defeated, Israel will know the Lord as their one and only judge, lawgiver and king.  His rule will bring them salvation (“he will save us—22).  In His exalted majesty, God will truly be “the stability” of His peoples’ times.  In that day, the abundant spoil of the nations will belong to God’s people.  All of the inhabitants of Zion will flourish; none will say, “I am sick” (24).  Best of all, “the people who dwell there will be forgiven their iniquity” (24).  God will be their God and they will be His people!

Behold Your God

The Lord, who is exalted above all, will one day exalt Himself in the eyes of all.  Isaiah reminds us that God already “is exalted, for he dwells on high” (5).  Yet, there is coming a day when the Lord “will arise” and lift himself up to be exalted (10; note the three-fold repetition of “Now”).  Even though the world seems chaotic and overrun by destroyers and traitors (1-2; 8-9), the Lord remains exalted as the righteous judge, lawgiver and king (22).  What is true but unseen, will one day be truly seen by all: the Lord is exalted.

The Lord brings stability to those with a holy fear of Him.  Verse 6 is a highlight verse for me: “and he will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge, the fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure.”  Sinclair Ferguson defines the fear of the Lord in this way:  “It is that indefinable mixture of reverence, fear, pleasure, joy and awe which fills our hearts when we realize who God is and what he has done for us” (quoted in I Exalt You, O God, by Jerry Bridges).  Those who fear God in this way, find Him to be the stabilizing presence in the midst of a world in turmoil.  Those who fail to fear God in this godly way, will fear Him out of sheer terror when He exalts Himself (14).

The Lord is the perfect judge, lawgiver and king.  The Lord takes His rightful place over His people: “The Lord is our judge; the Lord is our lawgiver; the Lord is our king; he will save us” (22).  While the USA has wisely divided up those roles into three branches of government (supreme court; congress and president) to keep one human from having too much power, the Lord rightfully occupies each rule as the supreme ruler of His people and His world.  Sadly, the humans in these roles often fail and falter; the Lord fulfills these roles to perfection.

Here Am I

In unstable times, the Lord is the stability of our times.  Isaiah describes a world in turmoil: nations betraying nations (1-2), heroes crying in the streets (7), cities desolate and deserted (8). But for those who wait for the Lord (2) and fear Him (6), the Lord “will be the stability of your times” (6).  We live in a time of great upheaval as well: COVID-19, racial tensions, political and cultural divisions.  Only in the Lord will I find stability.  Wait for Him.

The Fear of the Lord is the treasure of the believer.  Isaiah contrasts two ways of fearing the Lord.  The “sinners in Zion” live in dread and panic of the God of Israel.  They tremble at the thought of God drawing near: “Who among us can dwell with the consuming fire?” (14).  At the same time, those who wait for and trust in the Lord, have a healthy, reverent fear of Him that proves to be “Zion’s treasure” (6).  I want to fear the Lord in the right way, having that “indefinable mixture of reverence, fear, pleasure, joy and awe” as I focus on His holiness, greatness, power and love.

I want to live today in a way that prepares me to see the Lord.  One of the blessings promised to those who trust in and fear the Lord is that their “eyes will behold the king in his beauty” (17).  Because they looked to the Lord when the world was in turmoil, when the godless (14) and oppressors (19) seemed large and in charge, they will see the Lord when He exalts Himself and establishes peace for His people.  Blessed are the pure in heart for the they shall see God. 

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